The popular perception of late-night diners is that they are havens for the vulgar and the lost, the drunk and the dumped. But it’s hard to be hopeless at the North Star Diner (8580 Greenwood Ave. N, 457-5794). In Greenwood just a mile or so northwest of Green Lake, the North Star is filled with subtle lighting, bright-orange tabletops, and sparkling gold-painted booths designed to shove you into having a good time, whether you’re in the mood or not.
A chalkboard on the wall behind the counter advertises shakes flavored with chocolate, strawberry, espresso, or any of half-a-dozen other substances. The ceiling above is illustrated in colorful tiles with intricate dragons and phoenixes. Real flowers are on the tables, some of them wilting. One wall is covered with hundreds of photo portraits of astronauts—mostly wearing Old Glory on their uniformed biceps, but at least one stamped with a German flag—holding their space helmets proudly by their hips as they pose for posterity. The dining-room chairs are old-fashioned, made of real wood with hard, horizontally sloping backs and vinyl cushions for seats. The front walls are glass.
On a weekend night, the dining room does OK business until the neighboring bars closes a little before 2 a.m., then there’s a rush that nearly fills the place as nighttime refugees wander in for a breakfast burrito and jawing with friends.
Chris, Tayler, and Kate are seated in one of the dining room’s golden booths. In college, Tayler and Kate became fast friends after Tayler kicked Kate in the face during a fight over an orange monkey named Quazi. Tayler is visiting from Colorado, and the crew of 20-somethings are reminiscing after drinking and singing karaoke next door. Tayler orders a baked potato with hashbrowns—by accident, she says—before continuing: “Tonight, Tayler conquered her fears. She sang ‘Love Song’ by Sara Bareilles on stage in front of, like, 37 people. She was ‘Brave,’ which is, I believe, one of Sara Bareilles’ other songs.”
“Why do you keep talking about yourself in the third person?” interjects Kate, laughing.
A few booths down, Meral Husnein and Joi Hamade are chatting. What brings them here? “Hunger,” says Husnein. “And just seeing where the night takes us. Environment stimulates conversation… . I’ve been here once, and I suppose that left a good impression. I came here with a friend and I guess it’s sentimental? It’s a place to return to to kind of explore what more I can take from it. And a place near where I grew up.
“It’s definitely a high-energy environment,” Husnein adds, projecting his voice across the table and over the guitar and “Woo-hoo!” sounds blasting overhead from audio speakers. “But you can find your niche here just by sitting in a booth and having a concentrated conversation. As loud as it is, I feel like there’s space to create a sort of intimacy.”